COLUMBUS, Ohio — For the first time in more than 40 years, Columbus teachers are on strike and on the picket lines demanding change – including improvements to the conditions inside the schools in the state’s largest district.
The strike follows a vote Sunday night in which the Columbus Education Association – the union that represents the teachers – says 94% of its members voted in favor of the strike.
Columbus City Schools Board President Jennifer Adair said it was 94% of those who attended the union’s meeting.
Adair called the move to authorize the strike “disappointing.” The net result means students will likely begin the school year attending class remotely unless a deal is reached before Wednesday morning.
Adair said the board’s final offer to the teachers’ union last week addressed pay raises, bonus payments, benefits and provided assurance that the district has a plan to repair its aging infrastructure.
“Our buildings are safe. Are there problems? There are problems and we do know and we need everyone's help to help fix those,” Adair said.
CEA spokeswoman Regina Fuentes told reporters Monday morning: “What the Columbus Board of Education is not saying is that they don’t want to be held accountable to fix the schools Columbus students deserve.”
That exchange is part of the ongoing war over words and whataboutism - the teachers’ union wants specific language inserted into the contract to guarantee when issues inside Columbus City Schools will be addressed. When asked about this, Adair told reporters that the district has a plan in place but that specific language does not belong inside the teacher contract.
“The concerns of our community and our teachers regarding the condition of our buildings are valid,” Adair said. “That is why the board, the members that are sitting here on this board today ran. Where most of us here are new since 2019. We have worked to create strategy, to actually fix the problem permanently. That would be through dedicating funding in a permanent improvement capacity, to ensure that their regular maintenance repair and replacement. That is something our district does not have. The concerns of the community and what the teachers in particular are talking about right now, the board sees it and the board has been working on it. What goes in the contract doesn't actually solve that problem.”
Fuentes has said the language inserted in the offerings by the district only offer vague language about addressing issues within a reasonable amount of time.
The district has said it will take budgeting and future investments through improvement levies and bond issues to help pay for school improvements. The district has said it also leaning on $400 million in ESSER funding – pandemic stimulus dollars – to help pay for school improvements.
ESSER funds were used to fund HVAC systems in 16 schools across the district. The plan was to have 13 schools with new air conditioning systems by the start of school year, but CCS says six of the 13 will be without working air conditioning. Supply chain issues and increasing costs were partly to blame.
The district has said that it has already used bond issue dollars to help finance air conditioning improvements throughout the district.
“Having supplies in the building is not the same as having these systems functioning and ready to go for our students,” Fuentes said. “You can say they are in the buildings but they are not functioning. And we need guarantees not only they will be functioning but when.”
Recent reporting by 10 Investigates – which began before the fight between CCS and CEA became public – found that health and safety inspectors with Columbus Public Health had flagged 32 CCS schools with issues that needed be addressed back in March. 10 Investigates found repairs were delayed and some were addressed only after 10 Investigates publicly reporting on issues.
The Columbus City School board has planned an emergency meeting for 8 p.m. Monday at the Southland Center. The teachers’ union is planning a rally beforehand.